This weekend I decided I’d try a Wild Turkey Rare Breed comparison, specifically, 2019’s batch 116.8 versus 2012’s batch 03RB. It’s not the first time I’ve compared modern Rare Breed batches, but after reading a comment on r/Bourbon regarding batch 03RB’s superiority (at least for a particular Redditor), I thought I’d revisit the two.

The net result was about the same as the last time I tried. Ultimately, I favored Rare Breed 116.8 over 03RB, at least by a respectable margin. While 2012’s 03RB has an inviting nose with hints of classic Turkey complexity, the palate and finish exhibit a somewhat astringent quality. I attribute this to the younger whiskey in the six- to twelve-year batch, as well as barrels aged on top rickhouse floors.

If you’re a Bourbon Pursuit listener, you might recall Master Distiller Eddie Russell stating that past batches of Rare Breed required upper-floor barrels to maintain a marketable high proof. But then, the same logic would apply to dusty batches of Rare Breed. I’ve never tasted that degree of astringency in batches prior to 03RB.

Why did older Rare Breed batches require upper-floor barrels to reach a higher bottling proof? Might this explain the astringency I’m finding in 2012’s 03RB (irrespective of other batches of Rare Breed)?

Let’s start by discussing barrel-entry proof.

Prior to 2004, Wild Turkey’s distillate was barreled at 107 proof. It then changed to 110, and finally 115 in 2006. As you know, a whiskey’s proof can either increase or decrease based on the rickhouse floor it ages upon. In order to achieve a batch proof the average consumer might accept as “barrel proof,” high-proof barrels from top floors were necessary. This need faded over the years as barrels filled at higher entry proofs reached maturation.

As for the astringent character I’m finding in 2012’s 03RB, I can only speculate that younger whiskey from top-floor barrels might be the cause. Again, I’ve never tasted astringency in batches prior, so that leads me to believe there’s something unique to consider. And there is.

Presuming Rare Breed is in fact a blend of six-, eight-, and twelve-year bourbon, and taking into account barrel-entry proof changes in 2004 and 2006, batches from 2012-2013 should contain whiskey from all three entry proofs (107, 110, and 115). Were younger barrels pulled from top floors for 2012-2013’s batches? If so, their barrel-entry proofs would’ve been five to eight points higher. The additional alcohol may have played a role in oak influence (and not necessarily for the better).

It’s all theoretical, and I’m certainly no expert, but I can understand why Eddie prefers a wider variety of barrels/floors for today’s batches of Rare Breed. Which brings me back to Rare Breed batch 116.8. While I found it outperforms 2012’s 03RB, and certainly batch 112.8 (2014-2016), modern Rare Breed has yet to repeat the glory of my personal favorite batch, W-T-01-99 (1999-2004). Sure, recent batches have the luxury of increased barrel/floor variety, but to date (despite batch or bottle code) they’ve yet to mirror the magic contained in early 2000’s Rare Breed.

Thanks to a kind bourbon friend, I have the pleasure of tasting yet another bottling of this impressive Rare Breed iteration (a 2003 bottle to be exact). Will it perform as well as previously reviewed batches of 01-99? There’s only one way to find out. Let’s pour!

Wild Turkey Rare Breed – batch W-T-01-99 (2003) – 108.4 proof KSBW – reportedly a blend of six-, eight-, and twelve-year bourbon – bottled by the Austin, Nichols Distilling Company, Lawrenceburg, KY

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color: rich copper

Nose: (classic WT) honey-maple, brown sugar, caramel, armagnac, black cherry, pipe tobacco, fragrant oak char, molasses, herbal spice, leather

Taste: (complex & robust) vanilla bean, caramel chews, medicinal cherry, honey-maple, dense sweet oak, blood orange, brown sugar, tobacco, plums, nutmeg

Finish: long, warm & flavorful – toasted caramel, “zesty” pepper, spicy oak, molasses, leather, sassafras, herbal spice, orange peel, faint licorice

Overall: I’ll be the first to admit – I haven’t tried every single batch of Wild Turkey Rare Breed (1991-2020). I’ve had my share, though I’m far from checking every box. Of the ones I’ve tasted, batch 01-99 outshines them all. This 2003 bottling is yet another incredible example. It’s classic Wild Turkey on steroids, with just enough hints of dusty Turkey to effortlessly satisfy fans of Glut Era expressions; moreover, it rivals several 1990’s Wild Turkey 101 twelve-year bottles I’ve enjoyed (both CGF and Split Label). Admittedly, it’s not quite as exemplary as 2001’s “shiny wrap” 01-99, which earned the title of “CGF Killer” last May, but it comes pretty close.

Rating: 4.5/5 🦃

Now the question everyone is asking: What will it take to get modern Rare Breed back to this level? At this time, matching profile is arguably an impossible task. There’s been several changes outside of the aforementioned barrel-entry proof adjustments – primarily a state-of-the-art, larger capacity distillery (2011). But just because matching profile is off the table, that doesn’t mean that matching (or even exceeding) quality isn’t possible.

For example, take Campari Whiskey Barons W. B. Saffell (batch 1). I’m sure some will disagree with me, but I found Saffell to be an exceptional blend of six-, eight-, ten-, and twelve-year bourbon. According to Eddie, it’s rooted strongly around the ten-year mark. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – it’s the profile that future Rare Breed releases should strive to attain. Hell, surpass! If that were to happen, I’d definitely buy more Rare Breed (and believe me, it’s already a regular purchase). 🙂

Going back to 2003’s Rare Breed 01-99 … As I take this last sip I reflect upon the many years people walked past this bottle. For far too long a majority of whiskey consumers failed to realize the value of Wild Turkey expressions (myself included). Thanks to our blissful ignorance, we now have a surprising number of unopened bottles left to enjoy in 2020, though steadily decreasing by the day. I encourage anyone with open bottles to share with friends. More importantly, share with those who’ve never had the opportunity to taste these soon-to-be legendary whiskeys. After all, the generosity of an internet stranger was in many ways the catalyst for this blog. Every good turn – every thoughtful pour – is a seed with limitless potential. Share your cherished whiskeys. You never know what might sprout.

Special thanks to @windycitywhiskey for the opportunity to taste this 2003 Rare Breed. And to the incomparable Chris T., thanks for kicking this whole thing off. Cheers!

Become a Patron

Enjoy this blog? Please consider supporting it via Patreon. In return you’ll receive access to exclusive rewards and weekly whiskey content. Thank you! dj